Judge in Sniper Case Refuses to Order Jail Changes

A judge refused to order better treatment for jailed sniper suspect John Lee Malvo on Friday despite defense complaints that the 17-year-old is under constant scrutiny and is being denied basic rights.

Malvo's lawyers had said his right to privacy was being infringed by his guards. Among other things, they said Malvo's mattress is too thin, he has been denied reading material, his cell lights glare 24 hours a day and he is being denied vegetarian meals.

"This is about the right to human dignity," lawyer Michael Arif told Juvenile Court Judge Charles Maxfield.

Malvo is being kept at the Fairfax County jail, an adult facility, despite efforts by his lawyers to put him in a juvenile jail. Arif said the sheriff's office has addressed some concerns — for instance, Malvo now has a curtain in his cell so he can bathe and use the toilet in privacy.

But Maxfield refused to intervene on the other issues.

"To ask the judicial branch to interfere with the operations of the executive branch is difficult," Maxfield said. "You're going to have to present a lot more evidence" of inhumane treatment to force intervention.

Prosecutor Robert Horan Jr. called Arif's motion "slightly short of frivolous."

"Jail is not a nice place," Horan said after the hearing. "But it's better than the front seat of a Chevy Caprice." The car served as a home to Malvo and fellow suspect John Allen Muhammad, and authorities believe they fired shots from the Caprice during last month's sniper spree.

Arif said after the hearing that his client is being kept in isolation. He said Malvo's cell, for instance, has a checker table but no checkers, so he uses torn pieces of a business card to play checkers against himself.

Malvo sat quietly throughout the hearing. He was not asked to speak, and talked quietly with his court-appointed guardian, smiling at times.

Earlier Friday, another judge denied a defense request to impose a gag order on police and the FBI in the case, despite leaks to a newspaper.

Fairfax County Circuit Judge M. Langhorne Keith said he shared lawyers' outrage over the leaks. But he said he had no authority to issue an order affecting the FBI. And he said he needed more evidence that Fairfax County police were responsible for leaking information to The Washington Post.

Muhammad's defense team made the request in response to a Post story that cited unidentified sources as saying Malvo had confessed to some of the shootings in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., last month.

Muhammad, 41, and Malvo are charged with capital murder and other counts in the string of shootings that left 10 people dead and three wounded. They also are charged with shootings in Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia and are suspected in a shooting in Washington state. They are being prosecuted first in Virginia.

Robert Ross, a lawyer representing Fairfax County police, said in court the gag order would "act as a prior restraint on the actions of the police and how they do their job." He also said it was his feeling that it was not Fairfax County police who leaked the information.

Peter Greenspun, a lawyer for Muhammad, said that because the Post learned of the information so quickly, it must have been leaked by the interrogators from Fairfax police and the FBI.

Although Malvo reportedly did not implicate Muhammad in his statements to police, Greenspun said the leaks could still damage his client by tainting the jury pool for his trial.

Malvo is awaiting trial in the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a home improvement store in Falls Church, Va.

Muhammad, being held in neighboring Prince William County, is charged there with killing Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a gas station.

Meanwhile, a Jamaican immigrant taken into custody as a material witness in the sniper cases has been released from house arrest and said Friday he does not expect to testify at the suspects' trials.

Nathaniel Osbourne, 26, and Muhammad jointly purchased the car authorities say was used in the shootings. Osbourne said that his brother, who had gained entry to the United States with Muhammad's help, introduced him to Muhammad, but that he knew little about him or Malvo.

"I never could have perceived their thoughts to know what they could have done with the car," Osbourne said during an interview in his mother's Trenton, N.J., home. "I really tried to help him out of the kindness of my heart."